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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — The first race of the women’s bpost Bank Trofee series was not decided on the steep, muddy slopes of the Koppenberg, though they played host to a ferocious battle of Britons today.
Instead it was the final 100 meters of a smooth, dry road where Helen Wyman (Kona) claimed her second career Koppenberg victory, holding off an inspired Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea) in the final sprint.
Though the early moments of the race belonged to the German former world champion Hanka Kupfernagel (Stevens), Wyman seized the initiative soon after the race left the Koppenberg’s storied cobbles and plunged into the fields, driving the pace hard up the difficult climb to the race’s high point near the summit of the famed Flemish hill.
By the time the race tore through the slippery switchbacks that led back down to the start-finish Wyman had established a significant lead, while Harris looked to pull clear of Kupfernagel, teammate Sophie de Boer (Telenet-Fidea), and the crowd favorite, Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Veldritacademie Enertherm-BKCP).
Indeed, the tenacious Harris had caught and passed Wyman by the time the pair hit the cobbles again and, for a while, appeared poised to claim both a major career milestone and a literal stone — the cobblestone trophy awarded to race winners at the Koppenberg.
But a minor bobble on the final descent slowed Harris and allowed Wyman to open a gap of a few meters, just enough to ensure she would control the sprint on the road below.
“I backed off a little bit on the road section,” said Harris. “I was aware that Helen was just behind me, so I didn’t want to use too much energy there, and then I could make up a little bit of time on the descent. I felt confident on the technical sections, but just on the last lap I crashed on the downhill and she got like two bike lengths and that’s all she needed.”
Wyman, who lives in nearby Oudenaarde, said she was incredibly gratified to take a hard-earned win in what amounts to her hometown race.
“This is so special,” said Wyman. “It’s a big race, there’s so many people here, it’s my local race. It’s good for me normally, and Nikki was trying so hard today, she was really strong on the hills.
“I think when Daphny (Van Den Brand) retired, we all started to think the results of the race were no longer inevitable, and that’s made it really exciting, since there are different people on the podiums, there’s different people winning the races, there’s no one clear leader who is better than anyone else.”
Americans Amy Dombroski (Telenet-Fidea) and Christine Vardaros finished ninth and 19th, respectively.